Oliver! – Curve, Leicester

Following last year’s successful production of West Side Story, it was of course that Curve would again engage local kids in performing their final show of the season – a “Community” production of Bart’s Oliver!

And absolutely everybody knew about it, in some form or another, from my canteen supervisor at M&S to my mother, who normally wouldn’t care, let alone be excited about it. I was lucky enough to work with the stage team on Saturday afternoon, but that’s not really a good way to get a measure of the show, which used the entire extended stage space at Curve, right back into the Studio space.

And this is a Curve that the Mayor of Leicester recently called the “most disastrous project this city has ever seen in its history”, calling the cost of the council’s contribution to running the venue into question.

However, I largely imagine that this didn’t bother any of the kids as they dressed in their Victorian costumes and headed to the stage, to perform in front of 750 friends, family and keen-theatre goers of all ages. The draw of Oliver! is universal, reaching out to audiences of all ages. It is a piece of British musical theatre that has stood the test of time, is loved by many, and so a wise decision by Curve to play.

The cast were phenomenal – literally moving Sarah and I to tears on occasion. Director Paul Kerryson extracted brilliant performances from the company, from the smallest pickpocket boy in the bright red coat to big Mr Bumble played by professional actor Kieran Sutcliffe.

Particularly wonderful were Fagin, Nancy and the lovable Dodger – played by Adam Orgrodziniski, Mary-Jean Caldwell and our very own White Rabbit, Cameron Vear respectively. They all performed their little hearts out, giving confident, convincing, moving performances, all equally superb. But to every end, the company were super – for the bigger numbers such as I’d Do Anything and One Of Us, and the more intimate numbers, such as Who Will Buy which was beautiful and sang nigh-on perfectly. Oliver! like many musicals of the sixties is famous for its cockney knees-up type songs, including Oom-Pah-Pah, and the young company grasped the concept incredibly well, taking you to any smoky London pub and performing with brilliant ability.

The show looked beautiful – Curve coming into its own, highlighting the difference between a good school or college production, and this professionally-produced one. Rob Halliday’s lighting was naturalistic, appropriate and subtly powerful. Ben Harrison takes on sound design for Curve once again, and whilst it did sound great it did seem a little quiet at times – although sat in Circle Row E probably didn’t help! (Still, it shouldn’t have sounded distant like it did. Were the fills not turned on, I wonder?) Costume design by Curve’s Wardrobe Manager Siobhan Boyd was perfect, clothing the company in Victorian dress and wordlessly setting the scene in old London. Every little person on that stage looked fantastic, with no expense spared on the costume – just how it should be.

The stage design was brilliant, although a little like spot-the-recycled Curve show! But then, with the current slander from the Mayor, I suppose it’s good to see Curve cutting costs and not wasting money! Maybe someone should point this out to the Mayor – who probably didn’t come to see Oliver! and missed out on a wonderful evening of theatre by the young people of Leicester. Their singing was harmonious, their dancing was swish and well-executed and their acting was measured, mature and mature.

Curve has repeated the success of West Side Story. Kerryson has championed the young cast, with outstanding performances on the night we saw – and many of them have more than one role too, making their achievements even more mind boggling! They’re just a brilliant cast, the best that Leicestershire has to offer, and should they choose to pursue theatre many of them will have very bright careers. For Curve, they successfully drew in an audience of all ages, from many different backgrounds – many of which probably normally wouldn’t have considered a night our at the theatre – showing their critics why the venue is important within the city, providing opportunities for anyone in the arts – performers, audiences, trainee technicians like myself – to access and enjoy well-directed, beautifully designed productions, bred right in the heart of our city.  In my opinion, the cost of that should not ever be counted.

Production photography by Pamela Raith